Whatever follows after receiving a Grammy Award comes with a certain level of expectations. Flop and fall into some cliché category, or continue the ascent and fall into another much more alluring one.
This was what Snarky Puppy faced after hearing its name called for 2014’s Best R&B Performance award was opened, honoring their collaboration with Lalah Hathaway. You know, the one paying homage to Brenda Russell’s “Something,” where Hathaway sang two notes at once and blew everyone’s minds.
The jazz fusion super group led by do-it-all bassist Michael League has been steadily growing its appeal on the international circuit the past few years, bringing its advanced-pallet sound to audiences around the world. Fresh off signing with Impulse! Records last fall, Snarky Puppy ventured into uncharted creative territory and teamed up with Holland’s acclaimed Metropole Orkest for their first major-label release, Sylva.
TheMetropoleOrkest, led by conductor Jules Buckley, is a one-of-a-kind, hybrid orchestra that features both a big band and symphony ensemble blended together. The Dutch Orchestra has worked with the likes of Elvis Costello, Tori Amos, and John Scofield in the past.
It’s a bold move for Snarky Puppy, leaping into this type of sonicsphere, but as it always seems to do, the group gets rewarded for every risk it takes.
Recorded in front of a live audience over the course of two nights in Dordrecht, Holland, each composition on the album is named after a forest that left an impression on League, and each song mirrors the personality and style of music associated with its nearby culture. “Sintra,” the album opener, is located in the Lisbon Region of Portugal and features castanets, shakers, and congas. “Atchafalaya” is in the heart of Cajun Country, Louisiana, and showcases a lively horn section, light-handed drums, and all the elements you come to expect from a New Orleans jazz band.
Sylva is nothing short of epic. The orchestral additions lift each piece to an atmospheric level in a natural, unforced way.
The beginning of the album is morose, with strings that could score the end of a Shakespeare tragedy. It’s both suspenseful and enticing to the point it leaves the listener guessing as to where it will go, but as the horns arrive and the sound develops, “Flight” drops. The second track is true to Snarky Puppy’s personality: rich, aggressive bass, sturdy drums and percussion, delicate woodwinds, and swelling keys.
“The Clearing” and “The Curtain” are the lengthiest pieces on the album, demonstrating the heart of this collaboration. The essence of both groups become intertwined and form intricate musical short stories that grow and swing in emotion in a way that fills the pleasure center of the mind.
Snarky Puppy’s ninth album is breathtaking at its highest moments, danceable and funky when it reaches its grooves, and triumphantly-satisfying when it intersects in the middle. League and the rest of band prove once again that they don’t just write music — they compose it — and Sylva is another refreshing addition to their impressive tale.
Sylva is officially released on May 26th, on CD, Vinyl, and DVD. You can pre-order it on Amazon.